Turkey products recall an option - chief scientist

The government's chief scientist has said that processed turkey products may have to be recalled in an attempt to halt other birds or animals coming into contact with any meat potentially infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus.

The government's chief scientist has said that processed turkey products may have to be recalled in an attempt to halt other birds or animals coming into contact with any meat potentially infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus.

Speaking to Channel 4 News, Prof Sir David King stated that while there was no risk to human health as long as the meat was properly cooked, turkey products may have to be withdrawn from the shops to stop the disease spreading to other animals.

"I think that is exactly what the Food Standards Agency will be looking at now," he said.

He warned that the disease could spread quickly if the wild bird population became infected, although no cases had been found so far.

"That sort of direct transfer is my biggest worry at the moment because the transfer could occur through, for example, wild animals and wild birds so the real concern now is whether or not the virus is isolated to the birds that have been culled or whether it has moved beyond that,'' he said.

"My bigger worry is that it might have got into the wild bird population. We need to keep a very close eye on that."

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A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency (FSA) confirmed that if the virus was discovered in meat products they would take "appropriate action'', although he stressed that at the moment it was a "hypothetical'' possibility.

Sir David said it was "quite feasible'' the disease had been spread from hut to hut at the Bernard Matthews turkey plant in Holton, near Halesworth, by vermin or wild birds which had come into contacted with infected carcasses.

Following a meeting the government's Cobra emergency committee, animal welfare minister Ben Bradshaw confirmed that officials were looking at a possible breaches of bio-security at the plant.

"We can't go into the details of those today because it's possible that legal action could follow,'' he said. "But certainly the bio-security at the plant is something that the Food Standards Agency, the Meat Hygiene Service and we are investigating very closely."

Sir David said that officials had now confirmed that the virus at Holton was "identical" to the strain involved in a bird flu outbreak at a Hungarian food processing plant last month. He said the "most likely scenario'' was that the virus was brought into the UK by poultry meat from Hungary.

Bernard Matthews said in a statement that it had suspended all movements between the UK and Hungary.

"Bernard Matthews continues to work closely with Defra to assist with its ongoing investigation,'' a company spokesman said.

"We are co-operating fully and as a precautionary measure we have volunteered to cease any movements to and from Hungary."